Hugo. Katrina. Sandy. Rita. Ivan. These names strike fear into the hearts of anyone who was in their path. They are, of course, names of some of the most dangerous hurricanes and tropical storms in the last 30 years.
But how are these storms named? Is it completely arbitrary? Do world events and politics play some sort of role? Are they named after specific people? Hopefully this article can help shed some light on the process of naming a storm.
WHO NAMES STORMS?
Contrary to popular belief, neither the National Weather Service, nor the National Hurricane Center names tropical storms. That honor belongs exclusively to the World Meteorological Organization, headquartered in Switzerland.
HOW ARE THE NAMES DECIDED?
The names for the storms we see today were actually created all at once in 1979. There are six lists of names that rotate every six years. So, a storm name used in 1979 would appear again in 1985, 1991,1997, 2003, 2009 an 2015. You’ll see that same storm name used again in 2021. Storm names are retired if they are deadly, so you will never again see a Hurricane Andrew or Hurricane Katrina again. If a storm isn’t deadly though, that name just gets recycled over and over again every six years. There are also different lists for different regions.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THE YEAR?
Each year, the list of names is cycled through in alphabetical order, so the first storm of the season’s name will always start with an A. But, if we only get to the letter M, we don’t start over next year at N. We move on to the next list. At the time of this writing it is 2017, and if you are looking for Hurricane Zelda to emerge in the Pacific, there is a chance you won’t see her in your lifetime, unless it is a particularly bad storm season.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE RUN THROUGH ALL THE NAMES ONE YEAR?
You might think that if we went through every name A to Z on the list one year, we would just move on to the next year’s list. Not so. After we reach Z, the Greek Alphabet is used. So, you would see storms like Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and so on.
HAS THAT EVER HAPPENED?
In 2005, we got all the way to Tropical Storm Zeta. Keep in mind, Zeta is only the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet. Omega is the last.